Social media data company Rapleaf has just completed a comprehensive study involving the demographics and behavior of webmail users. In the first part of their study, they looked specifically at age and gender data and revealed some interesting findings. For example, did you know that Gmail has more female users than male? And that Hotmail is the other way around? Meanwhile, AOL users are older...but maybe not as old as you think.

For the Rapleaf study, the company sampled 120,000 webmail accounts from users with @aol.com, @gmail.com, @hotmail.com, and @yahoo.com email addresses. They then looked into the users' age and gender after having collected the data from social media profiles where people have publicly disclosed this information. Obviously, in doing so, they've skewed their findings a bit, as the company notes in their blog post. Users of social media sites already tend to be younger, so it's not surprising that they found that the majority of the webmail users studied were young with 75% under the age of 35.

Rapleaf says that despite their collection methods, their findings can offer insight into these different userbases. To some extent, that may be true, but we're left wondering how different these findings would be if they hadn't relied on public social media data and rather went with a true random sample.

Gmail Skews Young, AOL Older

That being said, here's what Rapleaf came up with. In terms of age:

  • Nearly 50% of Gmail users are under 25 years of age
  • AOL users tend to be older, with 31% of users being at least 36 years old
  • Yahoo and Hotmail email users have similar age distributions

It's not all that surprising that Gmail users tend to be young. After all, the service was established years after AOL, Hotmail, and Yahoo. Some of those who already had webmail accounts on other services were hesitant to switch at first (and some still are) since the process of changing email accounts is never entirely painless and often leads to months of checking dual inboxes for emails that may have been missed. Instead, Google's growth likely came from more webmail first-timers looking to set up their brand-new online accounts in addition to the braver "email switchers," a group that also probably skews younger...especially since an effective switchover often requires a bit of technical savvy involving setting up forwarding, auto-responders, etc.

As for AOL being comprised of older users, that too, is relatively unsurprising. Where Google is the newest service, AOL is one of the oldest. Its core user base has aged with it over the years and those who haven't jumped shipped yet are bound to be the older members who don't stay as current with changing technology trends. Still, setting the bar for "old" at 36 is a little humbling - especially for those of us getting up in our years. (That's not old, is it?) It would be interesting to see further breakdowns of this demographic into age segments including 40+, 50+, and so on, but that data was not available.

Gmail Has More Females, Hotmail Has More Males

Perhaps more interesting is the gender variations between the services. Gmail, for instance, includes more females (53%) than males (47%). If those were election poll results, we would call it "too close to call," but in terms of tens of thousands of users, these percentage point differences have meaning.

Why would Gmail attract more females? And conversely, why does Hotmail have more males? (It's 57% male.) Is there something about the aesthetics, workflow or features in those services that appeal more to women than men or vice versa? And if so, what? Unfortunately, raw data can't provide these sorts of answers, but they're definitely intriguing to us. We would imagine they are intriguing to the user interface designers and engineers behind the products, too.

Do women like Gmail's drag-and-drop features or its themes? Do men prefer Hotmail's efficient "quick adds" which allow for one-click additions of Bing content to messages? We doubt those are the reasons for the discrepancy, but it makes us wonder what are. Try as we might, we can't come up with an easy theory to explain this. (If you can, please share in the comments.)

Future details about the study will focus on other data including online activity, friend counts, and social network memberships. Stay tuned to Rapleaf's site for more information.